Schwarzenegger signals shift

Calif. governor picks Democrat, former Gray Davis aide, as chief of staff

December 01, 2005|By ROBERT SALLADAY AND PETER NICHOLAS | ROBERT SALLADAY AND PETER NICHOLAS,LOS ANGELES TIMES

SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, launching an overhaul of his administration, yesterday named a former Democratic Party activist and high-ranking aide to Gray Davis as his new chief of staff.

The hiring of Susan P. Kennedy - a former executive director of the California Democratic Party, longtime abortion rights activist and Cabinet secretary to Davis, the Democrat whom Schwarzenegger replaced - signals a shift in direction for the Republican governor.

Schwarzenegger has been seeking to recover politically from the defeat of his ballot initiatives last month and prepare for his re-election bid in this heavily Democratic state.

Kennedy, 45, recently said she was a "Democrat to the core," and earlier rumors of her appointment upset some Republican activists, particularly social conservatives whose allegiance to Schwarzenegger has been a marriage more of convenience than commitment.

But Kennedy, a member of the state's Public Utilities Commission, is also considered friendly to business interests - a major part of Schwarzenegger's political coalition.

Moreover, she is known as a pragmatic taskmaster who will bring order to the disparate ideologies and allegiances of Schwarzenegger's inner circle.

Schwarzenegger's administration has been beset by infighting and mixed messages, in part because the governor takes advice from a wide range of sources, including close friends in Hollywood and Republican political insiders he has known only a few years.

His political circle includes at least two prominent Democrats: first lady of California Maria Shriver and longtime friend and aide Bonnie Reiss. Shriver recently hired another former Cabinet secretary to Davis, Daniel Zingale, as her chief of staff.

Nonetheless, such a high-profile reach to the other side of the political divide is unusual in the sharply divided politics of California state government.

The move stands in contrast with the strategy Schwarzenegger followed for most of the past year, in which he emphasized issues that appealed to Republican voters.

Kennedy replaces Patricia Clarey, a Republican and one of Schwarzenegger's first appointments.

As chief of staff, Clarey helped stock the senior ranks of the administration with Republican loyalists and trusted colleagues from former Gov. Pete Wilson's office.

Conservative Republicans said they were troubled by the administration's shift in direction, which began just after the Nov. 8 election, when Schwarzenegger said he wanted to borrow billions of dollars to shore up the state's infrastructure rather than trim the budget.

Kennedy is not going to help, one prominent conservative said:

"She embodies everything I have spent my life opposing. It obviously raises more problems and concerns about where he is headed next year," said Mike Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly. "There is a list of things now where it appears we would have been better off if Gray Davis were governor."

On the other side of the political spectrum, Barry Broad, a union lobbyist, said the moves suggest Schwarzenegger's government is "literally turning back into the Davis administration before our very eyes."

Yet members of Sacramento's political establishment from both parties, who spoke before Kennedy's appointment, praised her.

Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, a Democrat, said that despite her early years as a Democratic partisan and abortion rights activist, Kennedy is "no flaming liberal." Kennedy has proved she is "able to subordinate her own ego and personality to get the job done," he said.

Robert Salladay and Peter Nicholas write for the Los Angeles Times.

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